February 09, 2010

Tools of the Trade - The Spurtle


I'm a late bloomer when it comes to oatmeal.  Funny thing that - I love all things creamy.  Rice pudding, tapioca and my childhood favourite -
Cream of Wheat.

That's what I had when everyone else at the table was eating polenta, which I decidedly didn't like.  It was one of the few eating quirks I had and so my mother obliged.  Made easier by the fact that my sister didn't - and still won't - eat red tomatoes or garlic.  It was way more complicated for my mother to make lasagna, gnocchi and pizza without tomato sauce than it was for her to make up a pot of Cream of Wheat for me.  I never imagined Cream of Wheat with brown sugar instead of the parmigiano cheese I so generously sprinkled into my bowl.  So naturally oatmeal, Cream of Wheat’s first cousin, never struck me as being particularly breakfast-like.  

And then I discovered steel cut oats.  They were Cream of Wheat with a crunch.  Nutty, delicious and healthy to boot.

McCann’s became an instant staple in the kitchen.  I've already shared my recipe for overnight steel cut oatmeal with apples, but when the weekend rolls around, I don't mind spending the 30 minutes or so it takes to stir up a freshly made pot of oatmeal.

The fundamental challenge with steel cut oats is the "stick" factor.  No matter how low the heat, or how constant the stirring, there always seems to be a tipping point when the bottom of the pot becomes a mess 'o oats.  Enter the spurtle.
Dating from the 15th century, the spurtle is a kitchen utensil whose sole and express raison d’ĂȘtre is to stir oatmeal. Simple, elegant, and exactly right for what it is meant to do, my spurtle is all the more loved because its design hasn't changed for hundreds of years.  As I stir the oatmeal lazily and sip my coffee, I'm connected to an ancient cooking ritual.

Tips for Perfect Steel Cut Oats

Bring 4 cups salted water to a firm boil  and add 1 cup steel cut oatmeal.  Let the oatmeal simmer briskly for five minutes before lowering the heat.  Cook and stir for 30 to 40 minutes until creamy but with a bit of a bite (think pasta al dente).  I'm still a bit of a purist - no brown sugar for me - but marcona almonds add a decadent touch to a perfectly wholesome breakfast.